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The #1 Cause of Heart Attack, Experts Find

Cardiologist explains five common reasons people have a heart attack and how to maintain a healthy heart.

Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S has a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Every year, about 805,000 people in the United States have a heart attack. Of these, 605,000 are a first heart attack. 200,000 happen to people who have already had a heart attack." With lifestyle changes that include a healthy diet, physical activity, not smoking and alcohol in moderation, the number of heart attacks can be reduced. Eat This, Not That! Health talked with Dr. Tarak Rambhatla, clinical cardiologist at Baptist Health's Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute who reveals five top reasons why people have a heart attack and how to help prevent one. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


5 Reasons Why People Have a Heart Attack

Doctor Checking Blood Pressure Of Male Patient

According to Dr. Rambhatla, below are common causes of a heart attack. 

  • "Uncontrolled risk factors of high blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol diabetes.
  • Medication noncompliance.
  • Family history.
  • Not establishing care with the physician to achieve early prevention and mitigate risk factors to prevent disease before it starts."


What Causes a Heart Attack?

high cholesterol

Dr. Rambhatla says, "A heart attack, medically termed a Myocardial Infarction, is caused by atherosclerotic (cholesterol) plaque that has built up in the arteries over time and then suddenly grows (or ruptures)." 

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Who is at Risk for a Heart Attack?


"The most common risk factors are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and family history," Dr. Rambhatla says. "However, it is very important to note that one does not need all of these risk factors. Sometimes, just one of these factors puts a person at enough risk to develop plaque and have a heart attack."

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How Can People Maintain a Healthy Heart?

man having blood pressure checked
VGstockstudio / Shutterstock

Dr. Rambhatla states, "First and foremost, it's very important to know your numbers. See a doctor regularly, at least once a year, so you know your blood pressure, glucose control, cholesterol levels and BMI. If you at least know those numbers, it will give you a good framework for identifying risk factors. It's also important to maintain an overall lower stress lifestyle that incorporates cardiovascular exercise (running, jogging, swimming, etc.) for 20-30 minutes at least 3-4 times a week. The American Heart Association recommends 75 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week. Last, eating healthy is important too — trying to limit red meat, eat more vegetables and eat lean meat/fish."

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Start Prevention Early

exercise lunges

"Even if we feel healthy now, the point of this is prevention and to avoid a heart attack in the next 10-20 years, because if we have underlying cardiac risk factors that we don't realize, those can progress to real disease in 10-15 years," Dr. Rambhatla explains. "It's much better to address it now and if no risk factors are found, it's important to be reassessed every few years because our body changes as we age and sometimes heart disease or risk factors go undiagnosed until it's too late."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Woman with face mask getting vaccinated, coronavirus, covid-19 and vaccination concept.

"Type 2 heart attacks are more common with COVID-19," Wendy Susan Post, M.D., M.S. tells Hopkins Medicine. "This heart attack can be caused by increased stress on the heart, such as a fast heartbeat, low blood oxygen levels or anemia, because the heart muscle isn't getting enough oxygen delivered in the blood in order do this extra work. We have seen this in people with acute coronavirus disease, but it is less common in those who have survived the illness."

Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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